A California state appellate court recently reversed a ruling against former USC kicker Matt Boermeester. The ex-college football player sued the university after a Title IX investigation led to his expulsion in 2017.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. The law prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools for admissions, athletics, financial aid, and more, but it also covers sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault.
Until recently, Title IX regulations required any school that knew or should have known about an incident of intimate partner violence among students or employees to investigate and remediate the situation if needed. Schools that failed to do so were often sued by employees or students and subject to sanctions from the Office of Civil Rights, tasked with enforcing Title IX.
The Title IX allegations
USC initiated a Title IX investigation after a witness told his roommate he saw an altercation between Boermeester and his girlfriend, former USC tennis player Zoe Katz, outside his window. The roommate later told his father, USC men's tennis coach Peter Smith, about the incident, and Smith reported the incident to USC, as required by law. USC reported in court filings that its investigation found that in the early hours of January 21, 2017, Boermeester put his neck around Katz's neck, “causing her to cough, and shoved her into a cinder block wall in the alley near her apartment at least twice.”
Boermeester and Katz both vehemently denied the allegation, stating that they were joking around in a parking lot and throwing french fries at one another. Katz did not file a complaint with USC, and Boermeester was never arrested or under criminal investigation. After the school's Title IX investigation, USC expelled Boermeester, and he filed suit in return. The superior court of Los Angeles County denied his petition to set aside the expulsion.
California Court of Appeals overturns the ruling
The California Court of Appeals overturned the superior court's decision, ruling that the disciplinary procedures USC used “were unfair because they denied Boermeester a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine critical witnesses at an in-person hearing.” Those limitations prohibited him from “fully presenting his defense, which was that the eyewitnesses misunderstood what happened between him and [his girlfriend] on January 21, 2017.” The court of appeals remanded the case to the superior court with instructions to allow Boermeester a chance to “directly or indirectly cross-examine witnesses at an in-person hearing.” Boermeester v. Carry, 2020 BL 199382, Cal. Ct. App., 2d Dist., No. B290675, 5/28/20.
The California Court of Appeals' ruling comes the same month that the US Department of Education announced sweeping new rules governing college Title IX investigations. The new regulations require colleges and universities to follow a judicial process that allows the accused the right to cross-examine witnesses, including their accusers.
If your student is facing a Title IX allegation in college or K-12 schools, or if you have any questions about Title IX or any student discipline issues, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.